28 Sep 2011

nth Awareness. Phenomenology of Deleuze's Difference & Repetition series

Corry Shores
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[James DiFrisco is an extraordinarily talented and erudite scholar researching at the Husserl Archives and Centre for Phenomenology at the University of Leuven in Belgium. He has organized a Deleuze Difference & Repetition reading group. This Phenomenology of Deleuze's Difference & Repetition series will translate concepts from the text into phenomenological discourse.]

nth Awareness

Phenomenology of
Deleuze's Difference & Repetition, series

What does infinite phenomenal implication got to do with you?

We might have some experience that causes us to look back at past moments in our lives and view them differently. This is continually going on. The meaning of our lives is in flux. Any one moment of our life can in the future take on any of a variety of unforeseeable significances. This is because all these other elaborations are contained implicitly in that moment. Let's consider a time when we were deceived by someone and later found out. Often times, we later remember that while we were being deceived, something did not feel right about the situation. There was something implicit in that moment that only later came to light. The future discovery of the deception recalls that prior moment, and in that way repeats it. But when it first happened, because it was felt implicitly, it was in a way repeated in advance. The moment that we treated as ok was also already given as repeating again in our awareness as deceit. Contained in all moments of our lives is an infinity of virtual repetitions, all given instantaneously and immediately, without the passage of time.

Brief Summary

Each act of awareness gives us its repetitions already from the beginning, but in the form of implicit virtual variations that can later be made explicit in future acts of awareness that recall the prior moment.

Points relative to Deleuze

A Deleuzean phenomenology would focus primarily on the absolute immediacy of our awareness.

nth Awareness

We will need to conceive of an immediate repetition. But doesn't repetition need time? No, not necessarily. We have explored previously Deleuze's motionless version of Bergson's duration. A Deleuzean phenomenal time would be intense and immediate. Time would be fully given in the absolute present somehow, in a flash, with the dimension of time being an intensive depth rather than an extensive distance. When we abruptly notice signs of age, we sense years have passed in that instant of non-self-recognizative self-awareness. We feel a depth of time, rather than feel its gradual continuous passing for an extent of some years.

We also discussed in that entry bifurcation. There were two related senses of bifurcation. One is forking-off in a new direction. The other is moving down multiple paths of development simultaneously. Let's focus on the first kind of spontaneous forking. We had this to say:
We see the relation between bifurcation and flashback shown even more vividly in Mankiewicz’ A Letter to Three Wives. In this story, a woman writes a letter to three wives saying she ran off with one of their husbands, but she does not specify which one. This is a forking in their lives, and it causes them to recall prior forkings in the past that foreshadowed the current situation. In one wife’s recollection, we see her discover a possible reason her husband might have left with the other woman. Her face makes a certain expression that is almost identical with her current one, as if in her past she was already flashing forward to the future. And likewise, events in the present unfold where she gets news that seems to confirm her suspicions, and she makes that same facial expression again, linking all three moments together.


So when something happens in our lives that takes us down a diverging unexpected path, we on the one hand might flash back to another forking in the past that only implicitly hinted at the current bifurcation; yet on the other hand, we are already living the present moment as a memory given in advance of its future recollection, only we don’t know yet what future forkings will bring out the present moment’s implicit significance. In the instant of the flashback, past, present, and future are all simultaneous and immediate to our consciousness, as if we are always in a way standing outside of time’s flow and experiencing events from the perspective of eternity. [from Shores, Motionless Duration in Deleuze's Bergson, 2011]
We might begin to notice that every moment of our awareness presents some newness. Even if we stare at a boring still scene for a long time, our imaginations might take over and give us various new things to have in mind. Every moment is a forking of some sort, a diverging down a new path of awareness. And thus every moment gives new cause to recall past moments and revise our grasp of them. As well, every moment of our awareness provides new memories whose implicit contents and meanings will later be explicated by another divergence in our awareness.

This means that each moment of our awareness will repeat itself, each time as something new, in the form of variational recollections of it. Consider when the wife first noticed her husband with the other woman. She sensed some deeper meaning in this plot twist in her life, but she did not know explicitly what that significance was. Later she receives the letter from the other woman saying she ran off with one of the husbands. This is a plot twist that recalls an implicit meaning in the prior plot twist. So there was something implicit in moment A that became explicit in moment B. Later she gets the note that seems to indicate her husband is the one who ran off with the woman. This brings moment A out yet again, telling more of its significance.

Each moment of our awareness has in it already all its repetitions, but only in implicit form. They are all packed into that instant. Because it is just an instant, these moments do not present an extending time line like the one that eventually follows. Rather, they present all these virtual explications as implicit tendencies for that moment to repeat variationally. They are given as virtual intensities.

This is repetition in immediacy. Each moment of our awareness is implicitly an infinity of virtual repetitions, each one a repetition not because it is the same thing over and over, but because it is a variation based on the same seed. Yet every seed is already a variation on another, so somehow there is no act of awareness that is the ultimate seed. Variation itself is somehow primary. If we had an initial act of awareness, it was not so much a thing we were aware of as much as we were aware of variation itself, perhaps in the transition from non-awareness to awareness.

So we consider this passage from the introduction to Difference & Repetition:
perhaps this repetition at the level of external conduct echoes, for its own part, a more secret vibration which animates it, a more profound, internal repetition within the singular. This is the apparent paradox of festivals: they repeat an 'unrepeatable'. They do not add a second and a third time to the first, but carry the first time to the 'nth' power. With respect to this power, repetition interiorizes and thereby reverses itself: as Péguy says, it is not Federation Day which commemorates or represents the fall of the Bastille, but the fall of the Bastille which celebrates and repeats in advance all the Federation Days; or Monet's first water lily which repeats all the others. (1968: 7-8 / 1994: 1d)

[Later Deleuze writes of repetitions happening: "dans un instant" (10b / 3c); and he writes regarding the n in nth: "what is important in principle is 'n' times as the power of a single time, without the need to pass through a second or a third time" (10b / 3d)]
A large part of the phenomenal richness of any act of awareness is its infinite wealth of implicit virtual repetitions, contained all within that instant of consciousness. Each variational recollection takes that moment to a new level of phenomenal significance, takes it to a higher power, with no upper bounds (nth power) as if it were an infinite Russian doll series.

Further in the chapter Deleuze writes:
With habit, we act only on the condition that there is a little Self within us which contemplates: it is this which extracts the new - in other words, the general - from the pseudo-repetition of particular cases. Memory, then, perhaps recovers the particulars dissolved in generality. (15c / 7d)
Each moment of consciousness is unique. When we think to ourselves that a present event resembles a past one, we are extracting something new from these moments, which would be whatever generality we impose on them. We might express love for a sibling, and call that love like the love we expressed for a romantic partner. But these expressions of love were perfectly unique and singular when they happened. We add something to both, the generality of both being love, when we associate them. But this is just habitual contraction (see this entry from the Second chapter on habitual contractions). Memory is more a matter of bifurcation. It would seem that the memory-linked moments of the wife's life conjoin on account of their semblance. But really they join because there is a particular in the prior instance that is ignored by the generality of their assimilation.

Deleuze continues:
repetition is the thought of the future [...]. It is in repetition and by repetition that Forgetting becomes a positive power while the unconscious becomes a | positive and superior unconscious [...]. When Kierkegaard speaks of repetition as the second power of consciousness, 'second' means not a second time but the infinite which belongs to a single time, the eternity which belongs to an instant, the unconscious which belongs to consciousness, the 'nth' power. (15d / 7-8)
In an act of awareness, we said, there are implicitly enveloped virtual repetitions of variational recollections. This immanent repetition, then, is the 'thought of the future'. The unconscious is our implicit awareness of these virtual repetitions, and under this function it is 'a positive and superior unconscious', because it has the power of infinite recreation. Forgetting is what allows those repetitions to spring up in the future in sudden realizations and recollections. Hence forgetting becomes a positive creational power in this immanent repetition. Thus repetition is the "infinite which belongs to a single time, the eternity which belongs to an instant, the unconscious which belongs to consciousness, the 'nth' power". This infinite belongs to a 'second' time. It is not second in order. In fact, the implicit time of virtual repetitions could very well be more primordial, because it immanently opens channels for explication throughout the extending passage of time.

Deleuze, Gilles. Différence et répétition. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1968.

Deleuze, Gilles. Difference & Repetition. Transl. Paul Patton. New York:Columbia University Press, 1994.

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